EDP: Thinking democratically – a comprehensive approach to countering and preventing “shrinking civic space”

Publication published by the European Partnership for Democracy  in May 2020 – accessible here

‘Shrinking civic space’ has been the buzzword in international fora and discussions on civil society for the last 10 years. In roughly the same period, data and research have shown that democracy is in decline globally, with some arguing we are experiencing the third wave of autocratisation. The challenges to democracy have only intensified as a result of the response to the COVID-19 pandemic, with the adoption of restrictive measures across the world and serious concerns over the looming economic recession.

The phenomenon of ‘shrinking space’ has long been considered to be separate from the global trend of increasing challenges to democracies around the world. However, more recently an increasing number of policy-makers and practitioners have called on the international community to broaden the narrative of ‘shrinking civic space’ to a closing of democratic space more generally. They argue that the current narrative of civic space has led to a narrow interpretation of the issue as a civil society problem, leading to a reactive and legalistic response.

This tension resulting from the lack of conceptual clarity on closing space lies at the heart of the mixed and limited results from the international community’s efforts to counter closing civic space. This paper has attempted to provide further evidence in order to enhance the understanding of different tactics for closing democratic space, and thereby contribute to a strategic framework for countering and preventing attacks on democratic space.